Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Law, Louisiana, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2019-07-22 23:50Z by Steven

Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

Cambridge University Press
January 2020
320 pages
17 b/w illus. 6 maps 2 tables
228 x 152 mm
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1108480642

Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

Ariela J. Gross, John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History
University of Southern California


  • Examines the development of the legal regimes of slavery and race in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana from the sixteenth century to the dawn of the Civil War
  • Demonstrates that the law of freedom, not slavery, determined the way race developed over time
  • Draws on a variety of primary sources, including local court records, original trial records of freedom suits, legislative case, and petition

How did Africans become ‘blacks’ in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders’ efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies—Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana—Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross demonstrate that the law of freedom—not slavery—established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. ‘A Negro and by consequence an alien’: local regulations and the making of race, 1500s–1700s
  • 2. The ‘inconvenience” of black freedom: manumission, 1500s–1700s
  • 3. ‘The natural right of all mankind’: claiming freedom in the age of revolution, 1760s–1830
  • 4. ‘Rules … for their expulsion’: foreclosing freedom, 1830s–1860
  • 5. ‘Not of the same blood’: policing racial boundaries, 1830s–1860
  • Conclusion: ‘Home-born citizens: the significance of free people of color.
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Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Arts, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Social Science on 2018-05-30 01:50Z by Steven

Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction

Cambridge University Press
April 2018
400 pages
233 x 165 x 43 mm
Hardback ISBN: 9781107177628
Paperback ISBN: 9781316630662
eBook ISBN: 9781316835890


Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts

George Reid Andrews, Distinguished Professor of History
University of Pittsburgh

Alejandro de la Fuente and George Reid Andrews offer the first systematic, book-length survey of humanities and social science scholarship on the exciting field of Afro-Latin American studies. Organized by topic, these essays synthesize and present the current state of knowledge on a broad variety of topics, including Afro-Latin American music, religions, literature, art history, political thought, social movements, legal history, environmental history, and ideologies of racial inclusion. This volume connects the region’s long history of slavery to the major political, social, cultural, and economic developments of the last two centuries. Written by leading scholars in each of those topics, the volume provides an introduction to the field of Afro-Latin American studies that is not available from any other source and reflects the disciplinary and thematic richness of this emerging field.

  • Presents systematic and synthetic overviews of recent scholarship on topics of major importance in the field of Afro-Latin American studies, for example Afro-Latin American religions, Afro-Latin American political movements, and Afro-Latin American music
  • Covers a broad range of topics, embracing most of the humanities and social sciences
  • Serves as the authoritative introduction for Afro-Latin American history, covering the period from 1500 to the present

Table of Contents

  • 1. Afro-Latin American studies: an introduction Alejandro de la Fuente and George Reid Andrews
  • Part I. Inequalities:
    • 2. The slave trade to Latin America: a historiographical assessment Roquinaldo Ferreira and Tatiana Seijas
    • 3. Inequality: race, class, gender George Reid Andrews
    • 4. Afro-indigenous interactions, relations, and comparisons Peter Wade
    • 5. Law, silence, and racialized inequalities in the history of Afro-Brazil Brodwyn Fischer, Keila Grinberg and Hebe Mattos
  • Part II. Politics:
    • 6. Currents in Afro-Latin American political and social thought Frank Guridy and Juliet Hooker
    • 7. Rethinking black mobilization in Latin America Tianna Paschel
    • 8. ‘Racial democracy’ and racial inclusion: hemispheric histories Paulina Alberto and Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
  • Part III. Culture:
    • 9. Literary liberties: the authority of Afrodescendant authors Doris Sommer
    • 10. Afro-Latin American art Alejandro de la Fuente
    • 11. A century and a half of scholarship on Afro-Latin American music Robin Moore
    • 12. Afro-Latin American religions Stephan Palmié and Paul Christopher Johnson
    • 13. Environment, space and place: cultural geographies of colonial Afro-Latin America Karl Offen
  • Part IV. Transnational Spaces:
    • 14. Transnational frames of Afro-Latin experience: evolving spaces and means of connection, 1600–2000 Lara Putnam
    • 15. Afro-Latinos: speaking through silences and rethinking the geographies of blackness Jennifer A. Jones
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Variations on racial tension

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, Europe, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-03-09 21:50Z by Steven

Variations on racial tension

The Harvard Gazette

John Laidler, Harvard Correspondent

For every nation, a different set of challenges, panelists say

A panel discussion Wednesday highlighted striking contrasts in how nations perceive and grapple with racial inequality.

Tracing evolving attitudes toward race and discrimination in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, a trio of experts painted a picture of a multidimensional issue resistant to simple explanations or solutions.

The panel was the second of four in a Weatherhead Center series on comparative inequality.

Patrick Simon, director of research at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in France, said post-war Europe followed a conscious strategy to ban the use of racial terminologies to describe populations, a practice that persists.

“We are all aware that talking about race is not a straightforward situation in Europe,” said Simon, currently a fellow at City University of New York. “Basically, if you don’t talk about race, the name itself is simply not there.”

Simon said the strategy was contradicted at first by continuing racial categorizing in European colonies. That ended with decolonization, but as citizens of those countries migrated to Europe, “race is back in the picture,” he said, “in societies not prepared to address racial issues.”

“Now that there is real racial diversity, this color-blind strategy finds its limits,” Simon said, arguing that the approach — including resistance to directly including race in official data collection — hinders efforts to “change the dynamics of racializing.”

Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin-American History at Harvard and director of the University’s soon-to-launch Afro-Latin American Research Institute, said Latin-American nations have long promoted ideals of mestizaje, or mixing of races, and racial democracy…

Read the entire article here.

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Amid sweeping changes in US relations, Cuba’s race problem persists

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2015-08-16 21:58Z by Steven

Amid sweeping changes in US relations, Cuba’s race problem persists

Al Jazeera America

Julia Cooke

In 1959, Fidel Castro said he would work to erase racial discrimination, but inequality is still widespread

Official Cuban census figures say black and mixed-heritage people are about 35 percent of the island’s population, but a quick stroll around any Cuban town will provide visual confirmation of just how many Cubans of color deem themselves “white” when the government is asking. That may not be surprising, given that race is not an objective scientific category, but rather an organizing principle of political power — both before and after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

The black and mixed-heritage share of Cuba’s population is closer to a two-thirds majority, according to other sources, including the U.S. State Department (which puts the figure at 62 percent), the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (also 62 percent) and Cuban economist and political scientist Esteban Morales Domínguez (who says it may be as high 72 percent). Most of these assessments break down the population into roughly equal blocs of white, black and mixed.

Even the dominant Cuban terminology signals the issue’s knotty intricacy: the decidedly un-PC term mulatto is used tenderly in conversation, defiantly on official documents, and derisively by the concerned neighbor who asks what color skin a robber had.

Now, as the country enters a new era of fast and sweeping change, a long-taboo political conversation about race is on the table as never before in art, music, film, and writing; in both official and dissident narratives; and in diverse circles across the socio-economic strata…

Read the entire article here.

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Myths of Racial Democracy: Cuba, 1900-1912

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-08-19 22:49Z by Steven

Myths of Racial Democracy: Cuba, 1900-1912

Latin American Research Review
Volume 34, Number 3 (1999)
pages 39-73

Alejandro de la Fuente, UCIS Research Professor of History
University of Pittsburgh

This article reviews the recent literature on the so-called myths of racial democracy in Latin America and challenges current critical interpretations of the social effects of these ideologies. Typically, critics stress the elitist nature of these ideologies, their demobilizing effects among racially subordinate groups, and the role they play in legitimizing the subordination of such groups. Using the establishment of the Cuban republic as a test case, this article contends that the critical approach tends to minimize or ignore altogether the opportunities that these ideologies have created for those below, the capacity of subordinate groups to use the nation-state’s cultural project to their own advantage, and the fact that these social myths also restrain the political options of their own creators.

In a very real sense, nothing can be more real than the unreal.
Ashley Montagu, Race, Science, and Humanity

Brazilian sociologist Florestan Fernandes called it “prejudice against prejudice”; U.S. sociologist Thomas Lynn Smith described it as “a veritable cult.” Both were referring to what has come to be known as the Brazilian myth of racial democracy.

In its simplest formulation, the “myth” is that all Brazilians, regardless of “race,” enjoy equal opportunities and live in a racially harmonious society. It could not be otherwise, according to the myth, because Brazil’s strength and greatness reside in the widespread racial mixture of its population. It therefore makes no sense to talk about blacks and whites in a country in which most citizens are some of both. “Race” in Brazilian society is constructed along a continuum moving from “black” to “white” based on phenotypical features (skin color, type of hair, facial features) and on social factors like education and financial status. Several centuries of intimate contact and miscegenation, biological and cultural, have created a new hybrid race that is authentically Brazilian.

The notoriety of the Brazilian case has been guaranteed by the brilliance of its myth makers, foremost among them Gilberto Freyre. But it has also been sustained by two fundamental facts: no other country in the hemisphere has a numerically larger population of African descent; and no other country enslaved its black population as late as Brazil did, until 1888. A hegemonic ideology advocating some form of racial fraternity is remarkable in a country like Brazil but hardly unique. Since the late nineteenth century, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s, intellectual elites in numerous Latin American countries have articulated racial ideologies that were similar in purpose and content to the Brazilian myth. Mestizaje was exalted as the true American essence, a synthesis that incorporated (allegedly on equal terms) the best cultural and physical traits that the various ethnic and racial groups populating the Americas had to offer.

Forced to cope with the troubling aspects of a North Atlantic ideology that flatly advocated the inferiority of non-Anglo-Saxon peoples and the deleterious effects of racial mixing, the elites in Latin America had to reach a compromise that would allow them to reconcile the goal of modernity with the undeniably mixed nature of their populations. During this search, the mestizo was invented as a national symbol. The result was an ideological formulation that broke with the past while upholding it. The discourse on mestizaje remained prisoner of the same canon that scientific racism proclaimed as incontrovertible truths—the essentialness of race—but the discourse revolutionized social thinking by minimizing the other central tenet of the hegemonic racial gospel: biological determinism. Although race was still associated with ascribed characteristics as immutable and overpowering as those championed by genetically based racism, the emphasis was shifted to geographical, cultural, and historical factors. This is no small distinction. By placing social factors at the core of their ideological constructions, Latin American intellectuals were openly contesting the notion that their countries were doomed to failure and perpetual backwardness, while asserting (however implicitly) that social transformation was the way to reach modernity. They thus had fabricated a way out of the ideological iron cast that the North Atlantic world had manufactured by means of its high science, universities, and royal societies.

But the escape was only partial. While contesting or just ignoring the idea that racial miscegenation meant degeneration, Latin American thinkers accepted the premise that ample sectors of their populations were basically inferior and that their human stock needed to be “improved” Such inferiority was to be explained in terms of culture, geography, or climate rather than pure genetics, but the dominant vision still presented the lighter end of the spectrum as the ideal and denigrated the darker end as primitive and uncivilized. In this formulation, whiteness still represented progress. Miscegenation was perceived as the way to “regenerate” a population unfit to perform the duties associated with a modern polity, with white immigration serving as a precondition for progress. The idea that regeneration was possible at all subverted biological determinism, but the expressed need for regeneration presupposed acceptance of the idea that “race” explained the “backwardness” of Latin American societies. Whitening became the way to remove a surmountable, albeit formidable, obstacle on the road to modernity.

Read the entire article here.

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